Always the innovator, restaurateur Sam McNulty decided he was fed up with the waste created by plastic straws in his spots along Ohio City’s West 25th Street. So in late 2017, he switched to paper straws in Market Garden Brewery, Nano Brew, Bier Markt, Bar Cento and Speakeasy, which opened a dialogue about environmentally friendly practices. Others have jumped on board including Melt Bar & Grilled owner Matt Fish and Eric Williams, owner of Momocho and El Carnicero. “We’re hoping that if word gets out, more restaurants and bars will follow suit,” says McNulty. “I kind of want it to be the worst-kept trade secret.”
Why was it important to switch?
My better half and I kayak on the Cuyahoga River all the time and go out to Lake Erie in our kayaks. There’s always quite a bit of plastic debris just floating along the river. It’s sad to see such a beautiful river, such a beautiful lake being polluted by these plastics that we literally use for seconds and then they literally last for hundreds and hundreds of years, if not forever. I think paper straws, for example, they’re a small but really powerful way to send a message to our guests that we’re putting the environment before profit.
Are your restaurants going through the same amount of straws?
We actually put them in fewer glasses. Unless someone asks for them, we don’t put them in water glasses anymore. It kind of dawned on us that you don’t need a straw to drink water. It’s a slight behavioral shift we implemented for both the bartenders and servers to not automatically put a straw in the water glass. Then, a behavioral nudge on the part of our guests to think about how the process of drinking water simply doesn’t require a straw.
What’s the end game?
In nearly every case where you have a single-use piece of plastic, there’s a sustainable alternative, usually made from wood or paper that if it were to end up in the ocean or in a landfill, it eventually biodegrades. Hopefully, this is the tip of the iceberg and eventually all to-go containers, all kinds of single-use plastics, we’ll get completely away from that.